No, mate. Whatever she’s told you’s rubbish. You don’t know the half of it. Guess what they say down the Rose and Crown? Ask Pete. Get me a beer and I’ll tell you it proper.
So picture this. Me ‘n’ Eileen, seven hours penned up in one of those piece-of-shit planes. British Airways’ gone nuts, mate. Make ’em from the scrap metal people throw on the dump. Microwaves, kettles. Won’t catch me on ’em. No, mate. If I want a holiday I’m sticking with Kent.
But Eileen wants to go to India. She’s had it in her head for months. Flight’s a doddle for her. She’s got a Bollywood movie on over lunch before she gets woozy from the Zopiclone. They serve her a curry on the flight. Two Bombay Sapphires and tonic. Knock-outs. But me? Dozy sod, I am. Spongy omelette for Pete; chicken sausage, bread roll and leave the salad for Pete. I’ve got Terminator Two on a screen the size of a postcard. What’s the point in that? But I’m acting like a fucking king: one of those tiny wine bottles stashed behind the safety card, then the whole way there: Beer? Yes, mate. Beer? Yes, mate. Beer? Don’t mind if I do, mate.
Banned the drink on the Majorca flight now. The Spanish know about us Brits, you see. Too many get-away specials in The Sun. But me ‘n’ Eileen are on British Airways Heathrow to India. As many free drinks as I like.
This airport we land at, the pilot says it’s the only no-carbon airport in Asia. So I think, dopey shit, how’s that work? Turn the engine off, will you? Use the wind to land?
When we land there’s no queue at immigration, ’cause the Indians are up-and-coming in the world, right? Overtaking us already. We Brits can’t get our shit sorted at Heathrow and we stand around like muppets for hours trying to get through immigration. But India’s going to be one of the richest countries in the world now. So they’ve got something to prove, don’t they. Eileen sees these massive golden hands when you walk in that spell out ‘Welcome to India’ or ‘Immigration’ in sign language. There’s a billion people, right. So do the maths. Tax them all one percent and that’s how you can afford to put up fucking golden hands in the airport.
I reckon I’ve got a trick for getting through customs. Being a prick as usual. Got nothing to be scared of this time, but I want the practice, don’t I. So here’s my trick: walk up all confident to the officer in ‘Nothing to Declare’. Keep eye contact with the officer the whole time until they look at you. When they look at you, get your passport out of your pocket and hide your face behind it. Pretend you’re looking for something in it. So I’m trying this out and of course Eileen thinks I’m a right wanker for wasting her time, so she just keeps walking up ahead whilst I’m burying his face in my passport. I get all the way through customs with my nose buried in my passport. But then I realise what an arsehole I’ve been. I’ve only gone and left my bag behind in the customs queue! Put so much effort into my trick that I managed to trick myself.
But it’s fine. I get my bag and Eileen’s got her massive straw hat out already and her sunglasses on and I’m like ‘Jesus, Eileen. Can you wait?’ And she says she wants to go to the beach.
It’s nearly five already. We get a cab. Old black and yellow car, looks like it’s straight from the seventies. Don’t have to wear seatbelts. So I ask the cabbie to go to the beach.
‘Oi can we go to the beach, mate?’ Like this.
The cabbie looks at me like I’m pissing about. ‘The beach? What are you talking about, sir? We’re in Delhi.’
Know how long a cab ride to the beach would’ve taken? Eighteen hours. I looked it up when I got back. So poor Eileen, no beach for her. She’s all embarrassed but the cabbie is in a right old jolly mood about it. I get out the tiny wine bottle I stashed on the plane. I offer some to the cabbie and we hit it off. Imagine! Driving along swigging wine out the bottle. Not like England! Happy days.
We get to the hotel and check in and drop our bags and we’re off. It’s a Friday night and I’m keen to get down the pub. Need my chat, don’t I. I want to tell some poor sod my story about the bag. The geezer at reception’s not interested though. Hard enough to get him to show us the room. Bit of an argument because Eileen wants a shower and I want to go to the pub as it’s late already. In the end she just wets her feet.
It’s nine at night. We look for a pub. Come out to a junction with a wider road. But it’s all a bit quiet for nine at night. No cars, no people. Nothing. Just street lights and dogs. Doesn’t seem right at all. It’s meant to be busy, isn’t it? India. So we wander a bit, Eileen telling me to shut my loud gob because I start singing. Which one? Some nonsense.
‘Calling all to Watersham dumps! Take your shit to the Watersham dumps!’
Something from the brewery like that.
Everything’s closed. Coffee shops closed. Domino’s closed. Laundry closed.
Eileen’s like: ‘Don’t feel too good, does it.’
We get to the end of the road and there’s a fucking gate. For some reason our hotel’s inside this gated neighbourhood. The gate’s twice as high as me and two-and-a-half Eileens. And it’s locked.
‘’Scuse me!’ I yell through the gate. ‘’Scuse us!’
But there’s nothing.
And Eileen says, ‘They don’t speak English, do they.’
‘Bon-jaw!’ I yell. Well what else am I going to say?
Disaster. Now Eileen’s saying maybe we should go back to the hotel and shower now. But that would mean the night’s over already. Can’t have that.
We’re arguing about what to do when a guy walks past on the other side of the gate. See us standing there like two pricks and tries to help us out.
He says, ‘They lock the gate at ten. You have got to go through the back.’
And I panic. I’m like: ‘Mate, mate. Can you tell me where I can find a pub?’ But instead of saying ‘pub’ I say ‘Weatherspoon’s’. Don’t know what I’m thinking. Maybe I’m thinking of a fiver for a curry, tenner with a drink on Wednesdays. So I forget I’m in India and ask for a ’spoons instead of a pub.
Eileen cuts in. ‘He means a pub.’ Smart one that one. She holds up a pretend pint in her hand and tips it up in her mouth. International sign language for ‘Where’s the pub?’
‘Sorry,’ he says. ‘Today is a dry day.’
Yeah. Dry day. Ever heard of that?
‘A what?’ Me and Eileen look at each other. Shit.
‘It’s the Delhi elections today,’ he says. ‘No booze.’
And I’m like, ‘Dry day? But mate, it’s a Friday.’
Is that all Pete told you? No of course we didn’t have a ‘dry day’. Actually we met some people. Found this lovely little house party and I’ve got to say, they were so generous. That’s how we met Kashvi! Pete finally got his beer, so he’s happy. Silly shit. I do love him, though. It’s Kingfisher there, the beer. Premium Kingfisher and large Kingfisher. The whole group were so funny. One of them—Gopi, his name—well he’s a businessman but that whole night he’s wearing a vest-top. Can’t imagine him in a suit at all! Kind man, he is. He’s in health insurance but his family sells fruit. Anyway, he’s one of those types—always running around getting beers for people all night, changing the music, rolling joints. Helpful, you know? Him and Pete don’t half confuse each other though!
Gopi’s like, ‘So, where are you from?’
You know what Pete’s answer is? ‘Ramsgate.’
Ramsgate! As if the whole world knows where Ramsgate is. Then he adds: ‘But I moved there from Romford.’
Of course. So Gopi has no idea where Romford is either and he asks if it’s in America.
‘It’s in Kent,’ Pete says.
The hotel was lovely, actually. Pete booked it. It was called ‘In My Arms Luxury Residency.’
I know, res-i-den-cy. Like they can’t just say it’s a hotel. Oh it was three-stories, six rooms. Quite modern really. Except that every word on the front sign was written in a different font. And all those wires outside. You know? From the grid to the hotel, from the ground floor to the first floor, from the first floor to the roof. Bothered me a bit. And that bloody sign… ‘For a perfect stay: In My Arms.’
Right but I didn’t tell you how we got to Kashvi’s. So on the way back to In My Arms on the first night we were a bit pissed off about that whole dry day business. Fuck’s sake, you know? First day in India and no alcohol. But then we were just outside the hotel—the luxury residency, sorry—and we start hearing this funk music from an apartment building opposite. We listen for a bit and then slowly we realise that—oh shit, it’s Lenny Kravitz! I know! So of course, I’m excited to hear my favourite song and I can tell what Pete is thinking. He’s thinking: ‘Eileen… It ain’t over man. It ain’t over.’ And I think—well that’s lucky for Pete. And what’s the harm? We’re on holiday.
So we go.
Security’s a doddle. We go straight up and the security man even opens the gate for us! No issue. Pete says something stupid like, ‘Thank you, sir.’ Actually says ‘sir’ to him.
Up on the third floor I have to move Pete away. I shove him, actually. You’ve got to do that with him sometimes. Because he can ruin things when he doesn’t really mean to.
And I can’t believe I’m actually doing this. I’m in India, I hardly know where I am and I’m knocking on a stranger’s door! The music goes quiet and the door opens and there’s a woman there in a wheelchair. Yes! That’s how we met Kashvi! But we don’t know her name just then. She’s wearing a black t-shirt with silver and purple bits all over the front. I think they’re her pyjamas.
Well you can imagine. This girl says hello to us and I’m all flustered and I think maybe I’ve got the wrong flat and I’ve just woken up some poor girl in a wheelchair.
I say, ‘I’m so sorry. I didn’t know.’ Meaning, about the chair.
And Kashvi leans forwards to us and goes. ‘Are you English?’
We say, yeah we are.
Then she looks at us dead serious and says: ‘I am so sorry. I didn’t know.’
Ha! Cheeky fuck.
Pete leans in and goes for it. ‘Look, mate. We’re staying at the In Your Arms. Do you have any beer?’
Of course she has beer. It’s her party. So that’s how we get to know her and Gopi and Binod and Angelique.
Binod was Gopi’s friend. He was this guy from the north of India. To be honest he was just smoking weed all night and not chatting much at all. Angelique was this Mexican girl that was living with Kashvi. Really lovely girl. She took us out the next day and showed us round a different part of town They called it a village, but it was more of a borough, really. Actually there was this one thing with her. She ended up having to take us for coffee to give us some advice. You’ve got to be careful in other countries, you see. Pete’s never careful. He nearly got his head knocked off on the second day. Anyway, dozy prick, isn’t he.
Turns out to be a blessing, really. This group of people we met really helped us out, especially as Pete’s a bit of a loose cannon. On the second day Angelique, the Mexican girl from the party, she took us to this village in the middle of the city. Can’t remember the name of it but it was lovely. There are these houses with six floors right up near each other and there’s only room for one car to pass down on the road. I just remember thinking—wow, there are so many people here. All these men! Some really nice clothes shops as well. And bars too. A whole lot of bustle. Nothing like Ramsgate, really.
We go into this t-shirt shop with Angelique, then there’s a really loud bang from the street. Pete and Angelique are busy shopping so I go out to see what all the fuss is about. There’s a group of men shouting. At first I’m a bit scared, naturally. One of them is banging a drum hanging around his neck. More people are joining and shouting and they’re holding a banner and all shouting, shouting. I think maybe it’s a protest. Then this group of men just stop right outside the t-shirt shop where we are and start singing and jumping around. It’s amazing! Happiest protest I’ve ever seen. There are twenty of them, thirty maybe, all jumping around.
It’s the clearest memory from India for me. It’s so clear, you know? These two men dancing in the middle of the group, the drumming getting louder and louder. Everyone waving their arms and shouting. It’s wonderful. I’m holding Pete’s hand and it gets louder and louder and then all of a sudden it stops. When it’s quiet a man unravels this long ribbon and runs around the group, waving it over their heads. And this ribbon is beautiful. Yellow and red and pink and blue and green and purple and golden.
Fuck mate. Fuuuuck. Wrecked, mate. Couldn’t open my eyes, mate. Sick. Felt like I’ve got brain coming out of my ears. Fucking hangovers, right. I can do hangovers, mate. But this one was a booze hangover plus a plane hangover.
Eileen’s lying there pushing me and asking me, ‘What time is it?’
And I’m like, ‘I don’t fucking know do I?’
Feel like I’m dead and she’s bloody kicking this dead guy in the back going ‘Pete what time is it? What time is it?’
Time? I don’t even know where I am, do I! Nineteen eighty-six, maybe. So what I do is, first I feel my legs with my hands, like this. Check they’re still there. I know, mate! Then I try to open my eyes. Then when I think I know where I am, when I know what year it is, then I check the time.
And she’s like ah what Pete, remember eating that fucking chilli last night? And I’m like—you what mate? And she goes through how I ate a massive fucking chilli and I nearly threw up from it and I don’t remember a thing about this. She says about a girl called Cash and Angie-leek and I’m like: nope, nope, nope. Reckon it’s the beer they have there. Different to what we have here, isn’t it? Percentages.
Yeah go on then, another pint of Fosters, mate. Vodka.
But yeah, Eileen won’t stop talking about me nearly getting beat up on the second night. Trust me, it was nothing, mate. Don’t know what came over me. I saw these men and thought—fuck this, this ain’t happening on my watch. That’s it. It’s like before India all she wanted to gab about was bringing pens to give to the kids and then after India it’s all about the men and that fucking burger.
What was I saying? Ah right so the first night, yeah. Once I get some food in me it all comes back to me. Cash, Angie-leek, all of ‘em. You won’t believe this. So the night we met them, Eileen’s talking to Cash about Spice Fusion in Ramsgate and Kash is saying oh no that’s not Indian food, that sounds like a fake. So I think, ah I don’t want to talk about fucking Spice Fusion in Ramsgate. I’m on holiday. I’ll talk to the boys.
‘What team do you support?’ I go.
And Binod, this guy called Binod, he goes ‘Cricket?’
‘Cricket? Who the fuck watches the cricket?’
‘The English do!’ he says.
‘No we bloody don’t, mate. I don’t know any twat watches cricket in England. Football, mate.’
Can you believe it? Cricket?
And it’s worse: Man U he says.
So I go, ‘Man U? MAN YOU? United? Come off it!’
Can’t believe they think we watch cricket.
We smash it though. It’s an all-nighter. But the whole time these guys think we’re all upper-class or something. We get asked if we have… what is it? High tea. No mate. Dope, mate. And they think our accent is all this bollocks like, ‘Ma-mar, darrrling, would you pleeease pars me the poop-a-scoop?’ Then they don’t shut up about the railways and saying that I built ’em or something! Me!’
Shit. Such a good night, though. Eileen sees me disappear to the fridge every ten minutes for another beer and she says ‘Pete, don’t start.’ ‘Cause she knows how I am. Then it’s all a bit blank from there except for the Killers. Can’t remember any other music from that night. But this song comes on the stereo and the room goes off. I come round and Eileen’s trying to stand on the table. The weed’s all over the floor. Cash is plastered and yelling out ‘The Killers! The Killers!’ so loud. And me, being drunk, I’ve got to compete with her yelling. But I don’t remember how the Killers goes, do I. It’s such a fucked-up memory. I’m holding onto the arms of the chair thinking I’m gonna fall off it if I let go. And I’m singing, yelling over Cash:
‘I’m forever blowing bubbles. PRETTY BUBBLES IN THE AIR!’
‘WEST HAM. UN-I-TED!’
‘WHO WHO W.H.U!’
‘WHO ARE YA?’
Angelique—the lovely Mexican girl I was telling you about—when she gets to us in the morning, well oh-my-god she looks so fresh! No hangover! Makes me think about how old I am now. Poor Eileen. Poor me. Forty—god. The blinds have been crashing about in our room the whole night. And the wind that comes in in the morning—it feels like a bloody furnace. So hard to get out of bed. I’ll just say this: hangovers are not the same in a hot country like that. And Pete, the silly fuck, can hardly remember who Kashvi is that morning. Fucking liability.
Angelique shows us out of the gate we’d been locked in at the night before. Turns out we’re right next that the village-borough! I remember now: Hauz Khas Village. Not really a village, is it. Like if you said Millers Hill was a village. It’s just a housing estate, really. So there’s only one route in down this long road filled with cars all honking at each other and tuk-tuks. The tuk-tuks there are called Autos. Angelique tells us that. It’s like she’s lived in India forever. Can’t believe how perky she is, though. Me and Pete, old bastards. We must look like shit to her.
We go into the village and look around the shops. And then there’s the protest I told you about already. The singing and dancing.
Then after that, we’re having tea at a stall with Angelique. And do you know what she says to us?
‘If you think about it,’ she says. ‘Just being here as tourists, you could be doing quite a lot of harm.’
Oh no, I’m not annoyed with her. It sounds harsh, but she didn’t mean it like that. She really is lovely. Angelique says about how I had told Binod that he had a funny name, right. She says about how maybe Binod thinks that Eileen’s a funny name too. She says it just depends on where you’re born and what you’re used to. I have to admit, at first I’m thinking—wait a minute, Kashvi made fun of his name too. It is a funny name. But then Angelique says that it’s different if Kashvi says it’s a funny name, but it’s not okay for the English to say that. Because of when we used to have the Empire, you know? Angelique says that the English killed loads of millions of people there. Well they never taught us that in school. But it’s true, you know.
The problem is, Pete gets into a stupid argument with her. Not about whether the English in India killed people, that’s easy for him to believe. But there’s one point where Angelique says that it’s our ancestors that did the killing. Well that’s quite hard for Pete to take.
‘It bloody wasn’t,’ he says. ‘None of my family’s ever left Essex before me. Never came to India.’
Then he says maybe Angelique’s thinking of rich people in England. The other classes, you know, who went and did those things.
But Angelique says no Pete, that’s not the point. It’s about the English culture. Thing is, I never thought about that before. About how English is a culture. I always thought of other countries as cultures, but not us.
Well the long and short of it is, it turns out bringing hundreds of pens to India wasn’t a good idea. On the way to the village I was handing them out whenever I saw a kid. Pete’s mum was the one that told me to do it, actually. She went to the Ukraine after the Russians left and said that if I ever went to a poor country I should bring lots of pens to give to the kids. The cheap ones, you know? Bics. But after Angelique says about being more careful—well, I go and pack the pens back in my bag. Feel a bit stupid about it, really. Now I’ve got hundreds of these crappy pens in the hotel and nothing to do with them.
After that, Angelique leaves. So we’re on our own and we just sit in the tea stall for a bit. It’s hard to know what to do next when it’s just me and Pete. I think maybe we should go to the Taj Mahal. But I don’t know how to get there and it’s hard to get internet on my phone. Really wish I’d’ve bought that guidebook. We can’t ask the man at the stall how to get to the Taj Mahal because Pete’s gone and had an argument with him about whether he stocks PG tips tea or not, the silly sod.
That whole afternoon he’s so quiet. He doesn’t want to talk to anyone. I ask him if he wants to go to one of the bars but he says he doesn’t feel like it.
So it’s all a bit of a waste of time that day. Don’t know where we are, really. When we leave the tea shop, we can’t decide where to go and I say, ‘Let’s just go back.’
We walk back to In My Arms along that same long road with the tuk-tuks, feeling like I might be hit by one at any minute. Then we have this stupid argument about whether to get one of the tuk-tuks back or not. Pete doesn’t want to as that means talking to someone. When we get back we sit and watch the BBC News in our room.
I’m kicking myself. I know I should’ve bought that India guidebook. If I go out of England again one day, I’ll buy one. One hundred percent. I just really needed it that second day.
Kashvi. More ‘w’ than ‘v’. You can call me Cash. It’s okay, I don’t mind.
Yes, it’s my first time in Ramsgate. Oh, England! Yes it’s my first time in England too. Well, it’s a lot warmer than they told me. Have they told you how we met? Yes? And did they tell you about the fight? Pete! You didn’t tell them? Are you shy?
Now let me see. It was only their second day in India. I was waiting to hear from them for the whole day. They tell me they were chilling in the hotel, hungry. And didn’t even think to ask me! It’s India! Food is everywhere! Ask any Indian! So these two must have looked on their phone for a restaurant and got so confused. So guess what they chose to eat in India? A burger. I know! Next time, ask me!
So these two idiots walk out of their hotel and they follow their map to the burger restaurant. But they don’t take the easy route, because they think the gate will be locked. They take the main road. And do you know what the main roads are like in India? Most of them don’t have a footpath. So my friend Eileen, the whole time she must be thinking this will be when she will die. No? You weren’t? Well I’m surprised. I think I am going to die every time I walk down that main road and I live there. You know, I tried to call them three times that day and every time I got through to their voicemail. So I think, maybe I was acting a bit desperate. I was going to meet my friends that night for a drink and I thought maybe they want to join us and experience Delhi on a non-dry day. But I couldn’t get through to them so I decided to go out without them.
The pub I go to is in a courtyard in a housing block. I got there early so I was wheeling myself around outside and these four guys came up to me and start causing trouble. I know these idiots from back in school, so I can handle them. This time I can see that they are drunk and they are trying to annoy me. I stop talking to them and try to turn to go around them but they block me. They are morons, you see. Anyway, one of them grabs the arms on my chair and tries to spin me around.
And then I hear—a distinctive accent.
‘Oi!’—I will try to do your voice, Pete. It’s like: ‘Oi! Fuck off!’
I see Pete running down the street coming towards me and yelling angirly. ‘Fuck off! Fuck off!’ And these guys from my old school are staring at this English buffoon and probably thinking ‘who the hell does he think he is?’ You know? Some football hooligan or something.
What is that word you taught me? ‘Tossers’. That’s what he is shouting.
So, of course in Delhi this type of thing does not work at all. Instead it attracts an even bigger crowd of people, because they think the English man is going to get punched in the face. And everyone wants to see that. I am trying to tell Pete that I’m okay but I can see in his eyes that he’s panicking. Maybe he thought the yelling would be enough to scare them away by the time he got there. But now he’s arrived and everyone is still standing there expecting to see a fight. I don’t know what he is thinking, but Pete grabs this small plastic table from the bar where these guys were sitting and lifts it in the air above his head! The beer glasses slip off and smash around him on the floor and Pete is holding a plastic table above his head like Gogola. Oh, how to explain Gogola? I have this poster in my room of an old Bollywood film called ‘Gogola’. It’s a giant dinosaur that comes out of the sea and eats planes and breathes fire on people. Gogola, he reminded me of that.
‘Leave her alone!’ he says.
And it actually works! These guys walk away and I am laughing so hard at this Bollywood hero from Kent. Gogola! I should call you Gogola!
Look how Pete is blushing. I bet he wants me to stop talking about it. But no—I am going to tell everyone I meet about the amazing Gogola from Kent.
Afterwards me, Pete and Eileen and my friends go back to my house for beers. My friends are all arguing with each other, which is usual, about where Pete and Eileen should go to next: Rajasthan or Goa or South India. That’s when we had the idea about me coming to visit Ramsgate. Oh and then one of my friends asked Pete if Ramsgate is in Scotland.
‘You what?’ he says. See if I can do Pete’s accent now. ‘Do I sound Scottish, mate? No mate. Kent, mate. Different country, isn’t it, mate?’
Let me tell you something. He may become all shy with me talking about his Gogola moment. But that night I asked two of my friends to come over with maala. Have you seen them? She brought over two flower garlands made of jasmine and chempaka. I turned off the music and presented the maala to Eileen and Pete.
When I did that, Pete got up onto the table.
‘Right,’ he said. ‘I have something that I’ve been wanting to say.’
Do you know what? He has not stopped talking about those bloody garlands since.
Daniel Hutley is from Essex in the UK. He now lives in Melbourne, Australia. He has published short stories in Gargouille journal, the Visible Ink anthology and Minimum Wage magazine. He came second place in the June Shenfield poetry award and in the John Shaw Neilson poetry award. He has featured at poetry gigs around Melbourne. danielhutley.tumblr.com
If you enjoyed ‘Bit of a Scrap (Delhi)’ leave a comment and let Daniel know.
You can find and follow Daniel at:
You can read more of Daniel’s fiction below:
‘King of Kings’ – Minimum Wage magazine: https://www.minimumwagemagazine.com/issue02-altered-reality#comp-jm19viis
‘Arrival’ – in the Visible Ink anthology: https://visibleink.net/buy/oj1pz3gpgsfk39ju6qxa6ssafok100
‘The Giving’ – in Gargouille journal issue 8: http://www.gargouille.com.au/store/
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